Gambling is as old as civilisation, and for a chosen few, it has proven to be more than just a lucrative hobby, but a worthwhile occupation.
The UK has long been seen as a promised land for professional gamblers, since it boasts one of the most diverse and accessible betting scenes in the world, with numerous regulated internet betting companies.
In honour of these talented card players and daring tricksters, we’re taking a look back through the ages at some of the most famous gamblers of all time; from the man who was so busy playing cards that he inadvertently invented a famous portable snack, to the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, here are some of the biggest high rollers of all time.
Despite his background as a politician and Postmaster General, John Montague is most remembered for his delectable creation, the sandwich. While the world is grateful for his tasty legacy, many people are unaware of why the Earl was so pressed for time that he required a snack instead of a complete dinner.
Unwilling to end a winning streak at the casino, the Earl would request that his butler bring him a piece of meat sandwiched between two slices of bread. His gambling companions liked the concept and informed their butlers to make the same as Sandwich. Thus, the world’s most popular light meal was created, and the Earl of Sandwich went down in history for his unintentional culinary — rather than gambling — excellence.
We couldn’t have a Best of British Gamblers list without including Northern Ireland’s finest, Andrew Black. A man who didn’t work until he was 26 is now worth about £114 million. Betfair is the brainchild of this professional gambler. He and Ed Wray founded the Online Betting Exchange in 2000, and it was valued more than £1 billion when it was listed on the London Stock Exchange a few years ago.
Tony ‘The Lizard’ Bloom, perhaps the most well-known yet most discreet of Britain’s successful gamblers, has gone to tremendous efforts to keep his true value hidden. The 51-year-most old’s renowned gambling escapades come from his poker career, in which he has competed in the World Series of Poker and other high-profile events across the world.
Although Bloom’s poker wins are known to be in the millions, it’s the entrepreneur’s off-the-table activities that have enabled him amass a net worth that many estimate to be in the billions. The East Sussex native has assisted in the development of gambling websites, as well as investments in real estate and other start-ups.
During the 1990s and 2000s, it was difficult to find a horse-racing fan who wasn’t familiar of Harry Findlay, whose betting exploits frequently graced the pages of national newspapers.
In his 2017 book, Gambling For Life: The Man Who Won Millions And Spent Every Penny, Findlay claimed to have “won over £20 million and spent just as much” throughout his gambling career.
‘Harry The Dog’ is a representation of what it means to experience the highs and lows of gambling, becoming a billionaire after doing time in prison for credit card theft in his earlier years.
The most successful gamblers are often of the analytic type, and Cambridge University mathematics scholar Patrick Veitch’s is no exception. Veitch’s interest was horse racing, and it was while a student at university that he established a tipster hotline, making more than £10,000 a month before graduating.
In his 2009 book, Enemy Number One, the Yorkshire native described to himself as “the UK’s most dreaded professional punter,” earning more than £10 million from bookmakers between 1999 and 2007. Veitch is still active in racing and is known to earn six-figure payments, with his most notable triumph occurring when he backed his own horse, Exponential, to win at 100-1 odds, earning his owner a prize estimated to be about £500,000.
Terry Ramsden is a classic illustration of the rags-to-riches opportunities that gambling may give for those who are successful. Ramsden, the son of an Essex postal worker, rose to become one of the UK’s wealthiest men, thanks to his expertise of horse racing and a career betting on the Japanese stock market.
With his lower-stakes racing victories, he was able to acquire Glen International in 1984, which had a revenue of £18,000 in his first year. By 1987, Ramsden’s firm was worth £3.5 billion, and he began to invest in horses. His net wealth apparently peaked at £150 million, but Ramsden was subsequently imprisoned with debts totalling more than £100 million, after allegedly losing £2 million on a single horse.
One of the most famous British bettors of all time is also one of the oldest. The story of the Yorkshire-born textile worker is well-known, earning him the title “The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo.”
Jagger, who was born in 1830, noted that the spinning wheels in his profession were constantly unbalanced. Around 1880, Jagger brought this inside knowledge to Monte Carlo, where he attempted to profit by monitoring roulette tables and developing a technique that allowed him to anticipate the outcomes.
Jagger won about £80,000 in a matter of days, which is now worth more than £7.5 million, momentarily depleting Monte Carlo’s casino reserves.
Charles de Ville Welles
Joseph and Charles are unrelated, but they both “broke the bank” in Monte Carlo.
Welles was born in Hertfordshire, but his family migrated to France shortly after, eventually settling in Marseille. He was convicted of fraud but fled to Britain, where he proceeded to dupe others into investing in his ideas, none of which he ever created.
In 1891, he travelled to Monte Carlo and “broke the bank,” claiming to have an “infallible system.” Nobody knows if he took advantage of the wheels bias, as his predecessor did, or whether he simply had luck on his side. In any case, he is remembered as one of the most successful British gamblers and fraudsters.
Charles James Fox
Fox served as the United Kingdom’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs for twenty years. During his lifetime, he advocated for the independence of the United States and opposed King George III’s stance on the issue. He was, however, a compulsive gambler.
His gambling addiction caused him to declare bankruptcy twice in the 1780s. His gambling losses were £200,000 at the time, which now equates to up to £30 million. For him, the best feeling in the world was to win in gambling, while the second greatest feeling was losing. He was also renowned for his heavy drinking, which some say contributed to his addiction to gambling.
Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer
Packer was a short-tempered, wealthy man most known for his business empire and subsequent conflicts with the Australian Tax Office and Royal Commission, as well as his extravagant gambling habits.
In 1999, a three-week losing spree at London Casinos left him over £15.5 million in debt. It was the largest gambling loss in history at the time. Kerry Packer was no stranger to large sums of money changing hands at the casino, having won over £18 million at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas and frequently reporting gains of up to £4 million on each of his regular UK vacations. In the late 1990s, he strolled into a large London casino and lost £15 million on the roulette wheel in one session.
So, there you have it. A fine collection of British gambling legends and stories, some long gone but not forgotten, and some still as prominent as ever. An eclectic mix of horse and greyhound bettors with a little casino aristocracy tossed in for good measure to remind you that it’s not what you have, but how you play your hand (or betting slip) that counts.
Best of Bets wishes you luck – let’s hope you make your fortune and we see you featured soon!